A copyright controversy has erupted over the writings of  Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels.

SOME OF YOU  are probably familiar with the Marxist Internet Archive.  Established in 1990 it is generally  regarded as the most extensive internet  archive of Marxist writers in the world today.  It is run by volunteers and all contents are entirely free to anyone who chooses to visit the website.

The aim of the site is to  'to maintain an archive of any and all writings which are Marxist or relevant to the understanding of Marxism and can be lawfully published."

The MIA  is presently  under attack from radical  publishers Lawrence and Wishart.  Formerly associated with the Communist Party of Great Britain,  the publishing house has asserted  copyright over the Marx-Engels Collected Works, consisting of fifty volumes, and demanded that they be removed from the archive.

According to the Lawrence and Wishart website the entire fifty volume set sells for 2,500 pounds. The publishing house is presently offering them for a discounted 1,500 pounds. Single volumes can be purchased for fifty pounds each.

MIA has announced that the disputed works will be removed on April 30 - the day before May Day.

David Walters, an archive volunteer, told ArsTechnica  that  Lawrence and Wishart had agreed nearly a decade ago to allow the use of the works, which are copyrighted because they translate the writings from German to English.

So why the about-face by the publishing house?  Simple. They want to make money out of Marx and Engels.  Lawrence and Wishart plan  to sell digital copies to universities and has structured an agreement for worldwide distribution.

Says Dave Walters: '"We respect the copyright. We respect the agreement.  But what they are doing is actually restricting the masses' ability to get these writings because they found a potential revenue flow by digitising the works themselves and selling some product to universities. We think it's the opposite of a marxist approach."

Lawrence and Wishart have issued a statement  defending their decision, accusing its critics of 'on line abuse' and 'sectarianism':

Over the last couple of days Lawrence & Wishart has been subject to campaign of online abuse because we have asked for our copyright on the scholarly edition of the Collected Works of Marx and Engels to be respected. The panic being spread to the effect that L&W is ‘claiming copyright’ for the entirety of Marx and Engels’ output is baseless, slanderous and largely motivated by political sectarianism from groups and individuals who have never been friendly to L&W.

But if Lawrence and Wishart do still consider themselves to be a radical publishing house then its behaviour towards MIA  is less than comradely and certainly not behaviour that either Marx and Engels would look kindly upon. And its accusations of 'slander' and 'sectarianism'  are entirely unsubstantiated.

The managing editor of Lawrence and Wishart is Sally Davison. She can be contacted at sally@lwbooks.co.uk


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